Construct validity of a self-stimulation threshold paradigm: effects of reward and performance manipulations

Physiol Behav. 1992 Jan;51(1):111-9. doi: 10.1016/0031-9384(92)90211-j.


A discrete-trial current-threshold intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) paradigm has been used extensively to examine the effects of drugs on reward thresholds. However, there is little work to date validating that this specific procedure measures reward. The purpose of the present study was to establish the construct validity of this procedure by testing the procedure's ability to measure reward effects and to discriminate these reward effects from performance effects. The discrete-trial ICSS procedure provides four measures: current thresholds, response latency, extra responses and time-out responses. The effects of a performance manipulation (variations in the force required to operate the manipulandum) and of a reward manipulation (variations in the train duration of the electrical stimulation) were evaluated on the four measures. Reward effects were reflected primarily in changes in thresholds, with no effect on any of the other three measures. Conversely, performance effects were reflected primarily in changes in response latency, extra responses and time-out responses, with only a small effect on thresholds. Finally, the paradigm's potential as a useful tool in the elucidation of the neurobiological basis of reward was demonstrated by investigating the effects of two pharmacological agents, cocaine and curare, on the four measures derived from the discrete-trial current-threshold ICSS procedure. The results suggest that the discrete-trial current-threshold procedure can readily discriminate reward from performance treatments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Curare / pharmacology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reward*
  • Self Stimulation / drug effects*
  • Self Stimulation / physiology*
  • Sensory Thresholds / drug effects
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology


  • Curare
  • Cocaine